Aug 23, 2010 5:27am
Re: What Is Gone
I did a bit of digging around.
The opinions are mixed on copyrights on otr. The copyright act revision in the early 1970s restored protection for unpublished works. In other words, if someone could prove they were the true copyright owner, they could protect their work.
With otr, the actual copyright owner could be the network, the sponsor, an ad agency or the star of the show - it depends on the contract made at the time the show was done.
With Benny's show for example, I found two original contracts with American Tobacco from the 40s and 50s. In one case, American Tobacco owned the show, with Benny offering services on a work for hire basis. In the other, CBS owned the program (except the commercials) and Benny was in a work for hire situation with the network.
One of the reasons Benny moved to CBS was to gain ownership of his program. I'm going on the supposition that ownership of Benny's show was transferred to him by CBS. However, did CBS obtain all rights to Benny's NBC American Tobacco programs and give this over to Benny? Did they also obtain rights to his shows from the 30s and 40s for other sponsors, like Jello or Ginger Ale?
Complicating matters too were the fees that were paid various union members for the broadcasts and the original intention that the programs wouldn't be rebroadcast past the original airings. CBS's ownership of Benny's show in the fifties, at least my reading of the original contract, was mainly aimed at their ownership of the show's concept and characters and maintaining their ability to replay parts of the programs in retrospectives and the like.
I've not seen contracts for Jack tv show, but I'm guessing he might have set up his own production company as the owner, contracting with the network to give them a finished product. These types of arrangements were more common in the tv years, especially when the movie studios started producing series for tv in the later 50s.
Many otr programs are clearly public domain. In some cases, the company or agency that owned a program no longer exists. Or, in the case of syndicated programs which were published on discs and sent to stations, the copyright owner didn't register or renew them. In other cases, the copyright owner, when given the opportunity when the law was renewed, took no interest in claiming rights to the property.
It appears that RS is, in some cases, making a claim that they own copyright or act as an agent for a copyright holder. In other cases, such as Benny, they're saying his estate has a right to his image and likeness, even in programs where his original contracts as a work for hire employee do not clearly state any ownership in the programs.
I checked a listing of Benny's archival collections at a university in California - his later papers, when he worked for CBS and American Tobacco, appear to include this kind of administrative material. Earlier in his career, there don't seem to be folders that would include contracts or legal material related to his work for Ginger Ale or Jello, though the papers might actually be there.
Benny probably had all the legal paperwork for his American Tobacco years because of his dealings with the IRS when his show went to CBS. It was a big legal mess he had to deal with for a few years.
Unfortunately, much of who really owns otr shows really comes down to original contracts for series or individual shows and many of those documents no longer exist. Of course, there are other factors, like the copyright law in effect at the time and revisions or actions taken by individuals or companies to protect their works.
Rights to the trademark, likeness and publicity of an individual are a different legal matter. I haven't seen any legal precedent indicating that publicity rights trumped any free and clear distribution or sale of public domain films, television shows and the like.
If these types of rights were upheld, it could basically shut down archive.org with claims from the estate of any big (or even minor) star or performer in a film, radio show or recording. For that matter, estates from different performers could have conflicting claims against other estates.
Rather something of a mess, don't you think?
This post was modified by coolcatdaddy on 2010-08-22 00:12:37
This post was modified by coolcatdaddy on 2010-08-23 12:27:06